Will a Weakened EPA Impact 2020 Compliance Decision Making?

by Adrian Tolson, Senior Partner, 20|20 Marine Energy
Thursday December 8, 2016

On the days after Donald Trump was elected President, I remarked to an industry colleague on what impact this might have on global environmental initiatives and MARPOL regulations, and their enforcement, if he acted on his campaign promises to limit the activities of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.   At that time it was too early to make a judgement and, as we know now, much of the rhetoric of the campaign has been modified; maybe his views on global warming would also be less bellicose?  However, yesterday's nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA brought this discussion back into focus and put paid to the theory of a softened policy.   Pruitt is after all a critic of federal environmental regulation, and at very best skeptical about man's influence on climate change.

I am not sure the Attorney General of the land-locked, oil-rich state of Oklahoma has much of view of maritime issues and for that matter MARPOL regulation.  However, if I had to guess, I am fairly certain he is generally not a fan of global regulations and the Paris Agreement.   The primary issue is that the EPA actively oversees and enforces - via the US Coast Guard - both MARPOL and the US ECA zone.  The EPA would also, quite obviously, be very actively involved on behalf of the US in the implementation and enforcement of the 2020 0.5% global sulphur regulation.  An EPA under Pruitt might easily see global regulations, mandated by a UN organization, IMO, as an overreach.   Particularly when those in the industry are openly disagreeing about whether this specific regulation can indeed be met, afforded financially, or even enforced!

Perhaps there is nothing to worry about?!  After all, the arguments for removing the negative environmental impact of residual-based bunkers from the world are pretty compelling; even for a man from Oklahoma. Unfortunately, it is the uncertainty of what the new US administration's policy might be that could have an impact.  The US has been an active supporter, endorser and enforcer of MARPOL regulation; it is one region that is not afraid to hand fines, and even imprison those who dare to flout the confines of operating within the US ECA.  If this is no longer clear and the global community starts to doubt the US's commitment, then what does this mean for the shipping and bunkering industries?

There is a danger that if ship owners and operators believe that the US will treat enforcement as a low priority, then it gives them another excuse to delay decision-making over 2020 compliance solutions.  It may be a misguided, and highly risky strategy, but this is an industry that will not change, unless it's forced to.